With Washington State's basketball practice starting in less than a month, we decided to try something new this season, with today's installment the first step on that path. We're planning on putting together a weekly Q&A with a member of the basketball team prior to the opening game in early November. We'll publish it here on SportsLink mainly on Thursdays. We start with this week's conversation – over lunch, actually – with coach Ken Bone.
• Some quick background. Ken Bone came to WSU prior to last season from Portland State, where he was 77-49 in four years and took the Vikings to the NCAA tournament two consecutive seasons. Before PSU, Bone served as an assistant at UW and was head coach at Seattle Pacific where, in 12 seasons, he won 253 games while losing 97. His first Washington State team was 16-15 but finished a disappointing 6-12, last in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Cougars are in preseason practice, which means the coaching staff gets two hours a week with the group all together. But Bone said he's asked his players to concentrate on three areas this fall: strength, conditioning and academics. And he's pleased with how they've responded.
Question: Let's start with the summer and your travel. I know you traveled extensively, including overseas. How many miles do you think you put in and how productive was your summer?
Answer: I have no idea how many miles I put in, and I think we'll know how productive it was in the next few years. What we attempted to do was build a foundation of international recruiting as a new staff. Getting out and seeing people, coaches, networking and cultivating some relationships with coaches around the world.
Q: Can you name the countries you visited?
A: Serbia, Germany. (Assistant coach) Jeff Hironaka, Germany, Brazil and Lithuania (for the European 18U championships). (Assistant coach) Ben (Johnson) back down to Australia.
Q: Are these places you have attracted players from before?
A: Australia, obvious. Brazil, yes, Coach Hironaka and I have coached three different kids from Brazil, though they're not kids anymore. One's like 45. But we have really good contacts down there. And then, Serbia, obviously, I basically went over there and stayed with Nic (Koprivica) and his family and met some coaches. ... He's a good ambassador for the program. He enjoyed his experience and speaks highly of WSU.
Q: Of the new recruits, what do you see overall from this group?
A: I like how skilled our new kids are. Their ball-handling skills and their ability to shoot it and pass it. I believe what's missing is we need to get bigger and stronger.
Q: That's an emphasis right now, isn't it?
A: They have worked hard this fall in the weight room. Coach (David) Lang has great job with the strength and conditioning part of our practice.
Q: Let's mention a guy who has gotten bigger and stronger, that would be Brock Motum. He's grown an inch (to 6-foot-10) and put on some pounds. How many?
A: He put on I think about 25 pounds. ... I know that's a lot of weight, but you can just tell. He's got some definition, he's definitely bigger, looks bigger and stronger.
Q: Big and strong enough to guard the 5s in the Pac-10?
A: I think at times he could be matched up against a 5 and hold his own.
Q: You have a player in the middle in DeAngelo Casto who can guard just about anyone in the conference. That must be nice.
A: It is nice to know that DeAngelo is now going into his junior year, tasted success last year as an honorable mention all-league player and was on the Pac-10 all-defensive team. He's now an upperclassman, I think he'll enter the season with a lot of confidence that he can compete very well in the Pac-10. ... He's also added some strength and a few (15) pounds (to 255).
Q: Do you expect to have Steven Bjornstad back from the knee problems before practice starts?
A: I think he'll be back here in the next week. Not at full strength, but he'll be back out on the practice court. ... He's doing better and better almost daily. And we need (6-11, 240) Steve out there.
Q: You like to have three or four shooters on the court at one time. Is that more of a possibility this year and, if it is, what new people are you looking to for help there?
A: It is always nice to have more guys who are a threat to shoot it from the perimeter. I believe it extends the defense and opens up other opportunities for different guys. Two things. I feel like this year the guys from last year are more confident in understanding what their role is, when to shoot, when not to shoot. Hopefully that will pay in regards to shooting percentage. And I think some of our new kids can shoot, especially (JC guard) Faisal Aden and (freshman forward) Patrick Simon. Those two can probably shoot the best of the new guys.
Q: The one guy you are going to look for to score is (junior) Klay Thompson. His he going to be the featured person in your offense and, if he is and he's successful at it, do you think this might be his last year with you?
A: I think he's our best scoring option, so we'll definitely go to him, just like we did last year. In regards to the NBA, that is his dream, we have not talked about it since last spring, but if his wish is to go to the NBA next year and if he can go out and have the type of season we all think he's capable of, then I think it would be great. I would love to see him go to the NBA.
Q: He's told me the more team success there is, the more it helps his future prospects. Is that true?
A: He's right. You know he was a teammate of (Gordon Hayward) from Butler. They were teammates on that USA team (in the summer of 2009). It was good for Klay and a lot of people to see his stock just continued to rise within a two-week period. It wasn't just the first round, everybody appreciated Butler, but when they got to the second (weekend) and then to the Final Four, it was like "wow, that kid's good." So it helps to be part of winning program and be able to prove (how good you are) on a big stage.
Q: I understand how important your Christian faith is to you, but you're very quiet about it. Why is that?
A: I live (my faith) by example. I'm hoping by doing that, people recognize that there is a relationship there with Jesus Christ and if they ever have questions, they can ask. Or if I feel the door is open to share, I'll take advantage of that opportunity. I also coached at a Christian institution for 16 years and I never wanted the kids to feel like everywhere they stepped on campus they were continually getting hit on their faith and their walk with the Lord. I think it kind of changed my view a little bit coaching there, because again, I wanted to make sure they knew I was available for them as their coach, but I wasn't going to use my position as a pulpit. ... I'm kind of that way in other areas as well. Sometimes kids asks me a question I say, "you know, I'm not the trainer." If Nick (Gallotto) says this is what we need to do, that's what we need to do. I'm not getting into a lot of debates. That's his area. Strength questions? That's (David Lang's) area. Academics? That's (Cynthia Prieto's) area. I feel I have my role.
Q: Finally, as you step into your second year here, what are you looking for this year?
A: Personally, I'm anxious for the season to begin. Been sitting on this 6-12, last-place finish, and being the head coach of that, for too many months. Fortunately, I'm not used to that and I'm not comfortable with that. I've not had any years like that. I don't think I've ever been in that situation as a coach. I think we're better than we showed, I think I can do a better job of leading these guys, and trying to get them to deal with situations within a game or after a game better than we did last year.
That's it for now. We'll be over at Paul Wulff's press conference this afternoon and then out to practice. We'll post our story after practice. Until then ...